The branch touch test ensures that your evergreen will stay fresh and fragrant all through December.

One of the happiest times of the holiday season is picking out the Christmas tree. Families will travel to tree farms, garden centers, and urban lots in search of the picture-perfect tannenbaum. When they find that pine (or spruce or fir) and bring it home, it is a wonderful bonding experience for everyone in the family to trim the tree together. But you'd be remiss to simply lay claim to the first tree that you see—instead, you'll want to consider a few important qualities and it's decorative use in your home. Our experts offer tips on how to pick out your chosen tree among even the prettiest pines and fanciest firs.

foggy sky with pointy pine christmas trees
Credit: Helaine Weide/Getty

Know Your Measurements

A big mistake that many people when choosing a tree is misjudging the size of the trees. "Trees can look smaller than they are," explains Amy Galehouse, general manager at Galehouse Tree Farms in Doylestown, Ohio. "You should measure your space at home where you want to place the tree and bring a measuring tape with you when you come to the tree farm." Measure the front door as well. You don't want to bring home a tree that is so tall that it brushes against the ceiling or—worse—bends over at the ceiling and falls down.

Give It the Touch and Smell Test

Make sure to select a fresh, healthy tree. "No matter what type of tree you select, you want the needles to be green and supple and the branches to be pliable," advises Tim O'Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade organization representing more than 700 farms. "If it's already dry, it's not going to last long." Ask the nursery owner or lot attendant when the trees were delivered. While some sellers receive all of their trees at once, others will have shipments scheduled throughout the season. Ideally, you want a tree from the most recent delivery.

Then, inspect your prospective tree. Run a branch through your hand. If the needles fall off or the branch seems overly brittle, move on. Next, give it a sniff. Does the tree smell musty? If so, it's likely been cut and stored for too long already, and you should select another. Galehouse suggests crushing a few of the needles in your hand to see if you like the scent that emanates from the particular tree. Blue spruce trees tend to emit a fragrance that most people don't like. White fir trees, on the other hand, have a pleasant citrus scent that is quite popular.

You should also inspect the tree's bark. Wrinkled bark is another sign of a thirsty, dried out tree. And, lastly, gently bounce the tree: While it's normal for some needles to fall off, an excessive amount shouldn't fall when you move it.

Choose By Type

Christmas tree selections vary by area. Most regions, however, will have a mix of various types of firs, pines, and spruces available at conventional lots. When it comes to health and longevity, the type of tree isn't much of a factor. "We've gotten pretty good at farming Christmas trees," says O'Connor. "With the proper care, almost every species should last four to six weeks."

You might, however, consider your décor style before selecting one species over another. Fraser firs, for example, have sturdy branches, making them ideal for hanging heavier ornaments. "If you want to put big ornaments on your tree, then you'll want to choose trees that are more layered," Galehouse recommends. Eastern white pines, by comparison, have feathery branches that are better suited for delicate decorations. Cypress varieties have lightweight branches can also make for charming garland and tabletop displays, which is something to keep in mind if you'd like to get the most from your evergreen or even replant it after the season. Again, carrying measuring tape wouldn't hurt—it can be easy to get carried away during the holidays.


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